Marin Blog · The Best in Marin Collection

Spotlight on San Rafael, Marin's County Seat

Posted in Blogging Marin on Monday, January 15, 2024 by MCVB Staff

San Rafael is a city with a Mission! It’s a historic city founded in 1817 by Spaniard Juan Bautista de Anza and is the county seat of Marin County. Whether you’re strolling through the Downtown District or discovering unique dining, shopping, and cultural opportunities, we can guarantee you’ll never be wondering what you should do next.



Explore San Rafael’s Mission San Rafael Arcangel, which was established in 1817 as a health-focused assistencia to Mission Dolores in San Francisco. The 1949 replica of the original Spanish mission stands as a testament to the region's history, with the Mission Chapel welcoming visitors daily for self-guided tours.

Next, make your way to ArtWorks Downtown, a nonprofit art center in the heart of San Rafael that offers a diverse artistic experience with four galleries, artist studios, and a variety of events. Open Tuesday through Saturday, this cultural hub provides a space for artists and the community to connect.

For film enthusiasts, the Smith Rafael Film Center provides a comfortable setting to enjoy an array of cinematic experiences. This nonprofit arts organization focuses on screening first-run independent, foreign-language, and documentary films from its three state-of-the-art auditoriums.

And if those experiences don’t sway you, check out this article, which names San Rafael as a California cultural district, recognizing its commitment to fostering artistic expression and preserving its rich heritage.


Things to Do

Marin’s Civic Center

Explore the Marin County Civic Center, Frank Lloyd Wright’s final masterpiece, on a docent-led tour. This 90-minute behind-the-scenes experience offers exclusive access to the Marin County Board of Supervisors Chambers, the private balcony with a striking view of the iconic blue roof, and custom furniture crafted by San Quentin inmates under Wright’s guidance.

Specially trained docents reveal the building’s scandalous history and its harmonious integration with the surrounding landscape. Tours take place every Friday at 10:30 a.m., starting in the Civic Center Cafeteria (Room 233), requiring pre-purchased tickets and the ability to walk/stand for 90 minutes.



Marin County Fair 

Immerse yourself in Marin County's vibrant community spirit at the Marin County Fair. It’s an award-winning event drawing over 120,000 attendees annually held during the 4th of July holiday. The fair offers five days of artistic exhibits, barnyard fun, headline concerts, carnival rides, sheepdog trials, and nightly fireworks. Look for a few Star War Stormtroopers standing on guard too!

Each year, fair highlights include a juried Fine Arts and Photography Exhibit showcasing the county's creative prowess. With Marin County's picturesque landscape as the backdrop, the fair embodies the essence of nature, creativity, and community, echoing Frank Lloyd Wright's admiration for the region's beauty.


Downtown BID Events

Venture into the center of San Rafael by exploring the San Rafael Downtown BID Events. Downtown Fourth Street and its side streets come alive with Victorian charm, diverse eateries, coffee shops, breweries, and wine bars. Experience the eclectic mix of small businesses, from bookstores to clothing boutiques. The calendar is brimming with events like 2nd Friday Art Walks, West End Block Parties, Film Festivals, Small Business Saturday, May Madness Car Show, and vibrant Farmer's Markets.



If busy downtown events are not your thing, head on out to the water for a day of fishing. Marin County boasts numerous locations for both freshwater and saltwater angling. China Camp State Park, on the east side of San Rafael, offers an accessible shoreline along San Pablo Bay, with the historic pier at China Camp Village as a popular spot. McNear’s Beach Pier, just east of China Camp, is a 55-acre county park allowing license-free fishing from its bayfront pier, featuring opportunities to catch halibut, striped bass, sturgeon, perch, and even shark.



For those seeking adrenaline-fueled excitement, head to McInnis County Park to experience 25,000 square feet of skate and scooter features suitable for all levels. This award-winning skatepark is a haven for skateboarders, inline skaters, and non-motorized scooter enthusiasts alike. The rest of the park also has two softball fields, two soccer fields, a canoe launch, tennis courts, a group picnic area, and nature trails.


Outdoor Exploring

If you’re hunting for something to do outside, look no further than exploring any of San Rafael’s parks.

China Camp State Park 

Nestled on the southwest shore of San Pablo Bay, this 19th-century Chinese shrimp-fishing village features vintage structures and a small museum that offers insights into the rich Chinese-American history of the area.

Discover the 15 miles of multi-use trails meandering through oak woodlands and ascending 1,000 feet to San Pablo Ridge. The park caters to outdoor enthusiasts keen on hiking, trail-running, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

It’s also a great place for people who love mountain biking, and if you decide to bike into the park, take advantage of the “Hike and Bike-In” campsites available only at the park's Back Ranch Meadows.

McNears Beach

Situated along the shores of San Pablo Bay, McNears Beach is one of Marin County’s most popular parks. Enjoy their seasonal swimming pool, tennis courts, family and group picnic areas, a sandy beach, and a 500-foot-long fishing pier. The park's scenic locale makes it a perfect spot for a day of outdoor activities, from swimming and picnicking to fishing.

Dog Park

For the four-legged friends in your life, the Field of Dogs is a canine haven located conveniently just across the street from the Civic Center. This fenced, off-leash dog park provides a spacious area for dogs to play, with a separate enclosure for smaller dogs. Water bowls and hoses are available for hydration and cleaning, while picnic tables and benches offer a comfortable spot for pet owners to relax.


Kayaking with 101 Surf Sports

For water sports enthusiasts, 101 Surf Sports specializes in Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP), windsurfing, wingfoiling, surfing, and kayaking. Located conveniently right on the water in San Rafael, they offer lessons, gear rentals, board repair, guided tours, and more.



Bird Watching

Nature enthusiasts and birdwatchers alike find solace in the bird-rich landscapes of McInnis Park. Stroll along the trail overlooking McInnis Marsh, where binoculars unveil a myriad of avian species drawn to the tidal flats.

Las Gallinas Ponds, part of the Las Gallinas Sanitary District, create an exceptional bird habitat, boasting over 180 species, including the endangered clapper rail. From wild turkeys and songbirds in the trails of China Camp to raptors carving circles in the sky, Marin County has become a haven for birdwatchers.


Explore, indulge, and make the most of your visit. For the best places to stay in Marin, plan your stay with Marin CVB at